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ragingloli's avatar

What is your opinion on the infamous Kennedy quote "Ask not, what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country."?

Asked by ragingloli (49927points) January 18th, 2022
26 responses
“Great Question” (8points)

I think it is horrific.
It encourages, if not demands, unquestioning subservience to the state, while simultaneously shaming you for expecting anything in return.
Clearly, in a self proclaimed democracy, whose government is elected, and bound by the will and wants of its people, you should ask what your country can do for you.
Especially in a capitalist society, it should be clear, and deeply ingrained in its populace, that everything is transactional.
If you do something for “your country”, your country must do something for you in return.
Quid Quo Pro.

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Jeruba's avatar


1. having an extremely bad reputation: an infamous city.
2. deserving of or causing an evil reputation; shamefully malign; detestable: an infamous deed.

ragingloli's avatar

I know what I said.

flutherother's avatar

It is inspirational @ragingloli What is a country apart from the people that live in it? I also like the way Alasdair Gray put it “Work as if you live in the early days of a better nation.”

It encourages, if not demands that you take a pride in yourself and what you do. It is quite the opposite of unquestioning subservience to the state.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@ragingloli Thanks for broadening my world view. JFK’s quote was just fluff. It has no real reason.

KNOWITALL's avatar

To me, the quote is asking you how YOU will help improve your country, rather than just sitting around waiting for it to happen spontaneously or relying on others.

For instance, running for office. If you constantly complain about government, get out and run and do it yourself.

People are utterly too complacent and lazy, so I think he was just spurring them to action.

JLoon's avatar

Oh Loli. You so Badd!

First – This was way before my time, and I think maybe yours too. In some ways the world was a different place, but probably still dangerous for anyone who believed in individual freedoms & open societies. For better or worse when we look at a moment like that we can only see it through the lens of the present.

Also – I hate our politics, mostly for what they are now. But probably the only thing I’m more cynical about is rewriting history, by leaving out the parts that don’t fit whatever argument we want to make in the moment.

So here’s some context from Kennedy’s actual speech on his innaguration in January 1961 :

“In the long history of the world, only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger. I do not shrink from this responsibility — I welcome it. I do not believe that any of us would exchange places with any other people or any other generation. The energy, the faith, the devotion which we bring to this endeavour will light our country and all who serve it — and the glow from that fire can truly light the world.

And so, my fellow Americans: ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country. My fellow citizens of the world: ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man.

Finally, whether you are citizens of America or citizens of the world, ask of us the same high standards of strength and sacrifice which we ask of you. With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God’s work must truly be our own.”

Infamous? I’ve heard much worse shit from the pack of fuckwads who think they run the world today.

Horrific? Sorry Loli, but I’m really not horrified. The sad thing is that just like Martin’s dream, too many people aren’t sure what these words really mean anymore.

kritiper's avatar

Finer words were never, or, at least, seldom, spoken.

rebbel's avatar

I think I have to agree here with @ragingloli.
I don’t really care that Kennedy said it, but I do care what he said.
I’ve never felt proud of my country (or any country, for that matter), and I’ve never felt the urge to do something for my country, because politicians asked me to.
I am of the opinion (naive, I know) that people have every right to go where they would like to go, not being hindered by borders, preferably.
I see myself, and all that feel the same, as world citizens, or Earthlings.
I feel, that by being the person that I am, namely a peaceful, helpful, humanist, I am doing something for my fellow men, slash country, automatically.

janbb's avatar

I think if we can rethink it and reframe it in terms of the pandemic, it can be interpreted as, “Stop being a selfish bastard and do what you need to do for the community.” In that light of communal responsibility, which I think is what Kennedy meant, it is inspirational – and sorely needed today.

chyna's avatar

Damn @JLoon, I’m pretty sure I could hear America the Beautiful playing softly in the background as I read your post. Well said. Thank you.

filmfann's avatar

Kennedy had some nerve here, trying to catch suckers for his foreign ventures, like the Peace Corp.

RedDeerGuy1's avatar

@JLoon Thanks for the context from the quote. What where the dangers which he was referring to?

Inspired_2write's avatar

Historic Analogues are basically a work that resembles one found in another work.
Thus JFK being a avid reader of literature would had come accross simular quotes from those before him.
From Oliver Wendell Holmes in 1884 the meaning is clear.
“To recall what our country has done for each of us,and to ask ourselves what we can do for our country”
The difference beinf “to recall” and “to ask ourselves”
Here is a link to a website that shows another in 1892 at a Funeral. ( 1865 -1884 – 1894)
Original idea from where that wuote came from is in the paragraphs where the photo of Arthur Schlesinger is.

smudges's avatar

I think the meaning is: “Don’t be a selfish ass yelling ME ME ME! But rather, helping one’s country doesn’t mean that you have to do great or big deeds. Actions like keeping the city clean, being courteous to one another, helping each other. . .these all help a nation in the path of betterment.”

I don’t see it as government making demands in any way whatsoever.

@Inspired_2write Thank you! I knew Kennedy didn’t say it first, but couldn’t find info about it.

Jeruba's avatar

@ragingloli, you may disapprove of the quote or hate it, but it does not have an evil reputation. Reputation out there in the world is a matter of fact, not opinion; that is, it is a fact that it has a certain reputation. The quote from JFK’s inaugural address is well thought of.

JLeslie's avatar

It means to me we, the American citizenry, are the country. We make the country what it is. We have a responsibility to society.

I can see how it can also be interpreted as a sort of brainwashing to serve blindly and do as asked by the government, but I think most Americans think of it as uplifting and hopeful and a call to make the country a better place.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Yes It rang a bell in my memory that I had seen that before in my late mothers book of Poems.

Inspired_2write's avatar

Typo error in “The difference———“to recall” and “to ask ourselves”
shoud be being.
Original idea from where that———- came from is in the paragraphs where the photo of Arthur Schlesinger is.
Should be quote

Mimishu1995's avatar

It’s an inspirational quote, but it can also be twisted into a way to shift blame.

But then again everything can be twisted in a bad way by people with ulterior motive. That doesn’t make the quote itself bad.

Fun fact: the quote is actually featured in a well-known song in my country, and for a while I thought that was a quote unique for my country.

JLoon's avatar

@chyna – Thanks! I think maybe I was humming some Bob Marley… ;)

@RedDeerGuy1 – I’d have to do some serious research since I’m not part of that generation, and didn’t live through those times. But if I remember my history classes – Kennedy came into office facing a crisis in what was then West Berlin, an out of control nuclear arms with the Soviet Union, widspread unrest over segregation and discrimination in the South, combined recession & inflation along with price fixing by steel manufacturers and other corporations, calls for US military assistance to a corrupt regime in South Vietnam, over 22% percent of US population living below the poverty line, and worldwide less than 40 out of 172 countries with legitimate democratic governments.

And then there was Marilyn…

filmfann's avatar

btw This afternoon I became worried that readers would not understand my sarcasm, and be critical of my response. Once again, the Jellies showed their quality. Thank you all!!

rockfan's avatar

The quote is even worse today, considering how corrupt modern American politics is, along with a horrible two party system and money in politics ruining our elections. The establishment basically makes it impossible for you to do anything for your country. Unless you have tons of money.

I think any politician who still uses this quote to be inspirational is comically out of touch.

Mimishu1995's avatar

@rockfan in my country the quote is used much more often by the common people with each other. I haven’t seen any politicians saying this for a long time.

LuckyGuy's avatar

I look at it as asking people to be givers rather than takers, helpers rather than helpless.

You can see it in many ways when you are at get-togethers with friends , relatives or groups.
Some members will pick up the napkin that fell on the floor. Some will ignore it. Some will take a tissue and clean the coffee that spilled on the counter. Some will figure it it the hosts job. Some will offer to help carry the food or plates or whatever. Others will wait to be served.

LostInParadise's avatar

I have no problem with the message of the quote, but it is too wordy and the phrase “ask not” is archaic.

Blackwater_Park's avatar

I take a little more positive from that quote than some apparently. I always felt that it was to have people take care of the country we live in, make it a better place and not just be mindless dead weight. It is intended to make everyone aware that we are in the driver’s seat and are responsible for the future of this country.

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